Yemen firefight. Photo: iStock
Yemen firefight. Photo: iStock

Yemen is the war being avoided by US politicians because it’s not politically convenient, and while it becomes Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam, and the UAE exploits the situation, we need to separate the narrative of ‘officaldom’ and see the commercial motives and political motivations that have catalyzed this secretive and ignored war.

Embed from Getty Images

The official political story

Once the Arab Spring took hold in January 2011 in Yemen, long-reigning President Ali Abdullah Saleh faced mounting frustration at economic blundering and unchanging problems. He resigned after surviving a bomb attack in June 2011. After medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and the US, Saleh returned to Yemen and remained in Sana’a, exerting potent influence over the military and his loyalists.

However, he ceded power to his vice-president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, for a two-year term. He entered Yemen into the World Trade Organization, and in July 2014 ordered cuts on fuel subsidies and public spending. This was disastrous because a third of the 25 million Yemenis at that time lived on below $2 a day. Then in August 2014 Hadi’s government reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $560 million loan which required austerity and removed food and fuel subsidies for  Yemenis.

Hadi overstayed his term by an extra two years, and on January 22 2015, was forced to resign by the Zaydi Houthis of northern Yemen, who marched on Sana’a, seized the presidential palace and placed Hadi under house arrest, while supported and unopposed by Saleh’s supporters.

The Zaydi’s contribute to 25% of the religious make-up of Yemen, but now represent far more Muslims in Yemen as they govern the populous north of Yemen, which contains 80% of the country’s population.

In February, Hadi escaped to Aden, rescinded his resignation, reached Saudi Arabia and the Saudis began bombing and blockading Yemen in 2015, and labeling the Houthis an Iranian proxy, with scant evidence, just assertions.

Then on July 28, 2016, Saleh and the Houthis announced a formal alliance against the Saudi-led military aggression. However, Saleh was talking to the UAE and betrayed the Houthis, resulting in armed clashes in Sana’a between the factions. Saleh repudiated the Houthis on December 2, 2017, called on his supporters to take back Yemen, and turned towards Saudi Arabia once more. On December 4, 2017, Saleh was killed by Houthi sniper fire after a rocket-propelled grenade disabled his vehicle while he tried to flee into Saudi-controlled territories.

Ideology and empire, not sectarian animosity has lit a fire in Yemen

The grievances in Yemen were at first political, not sectarian. Originally, Saleh was amassing wealth and not redistributing the resources efficiently or effectively. The Houthis were voicing discontent at Yemen being backward and poor. And animosity was apparent due to this criticism as Saleh had engaged in a low-intensity conflict against them for years, which led to the death of Hussein al-Houthi.

Discovering victory wasn’t easy, perpetuating the Iran-Houthi association or sponsorship was a political tool used to garner support from Saudi Arabia above all, but US embassy cables saw little evidence in this at the time. This political game to ensure effective control and rein over a country in need of reforms, infrastructure investment, and being noticeably poor led Hadi to repeat Saleh’s notions.

And yet, Saleh later allied with the Houthis to resist Saudi Arabian bombardments only to seek Saudi support later. Saleh seemed to have no qualms about working with the Iranian-associated Houthis, a discourse he nurtured, and a group he formerly reviled. Such actions discredit the association he crafted, but suggest the intentions of a man caught in the avarice of the oldest vice humanity knows: power.

Using an artifice of an Iranian presence in Yemen was his downfall as it brought the wrath of the Saudis and Emiratis into Yemen, and caused needless suffering in an already impoverished country. Fabrications have real-world consequences, and somebody should have given Saleh a magic quill that inscribed “I mustn’t tell lies” onto his skin. That fire of paranoia whirling in the minds of the House of Saud also brought a boon for the militaristic nationalists to the right of neoconservatists in Washington.

Behind the well packaged narrative of the conflicts origins now spun as sectarian by US politicians, corporate media and Israeli and Gulf outlets as Iran’s long reach, as well as omitting the Saudi-led coalition’s heinous crimes, al-Qaeda’s presence and a complex history, many nations have their own goals for Yemen now.

Empire fuels animosity

For the US, Yemen was a nation US political factions wished to influence during the Cold War ,especially South Yemeni waters used by the Soviets. Now, Yemen is a steady income source for the US military-industrial complex, as well as the British armaments industry and other nations supplying Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen.

The Saudi military lacks proficiency and even will. They’re having much of their logistical needs handled by the Americans. The world’s policeman wishes to maintain their $120 million per month contracts to supply and direct the inept Saudi military. President Donald Trump himself outlined that $200 billion dollars and 40,000 jobs dependent in electoral swing states that are prospering because of Saudi actions in Yemen when he met Mohammed bin Salman in Washington.

Also, the Americans are trying to placate the Saudis in the face of an encroaching threat to the petrodollar by a buoyed China, as several nations are actively trying to break away from the US dollar

For the Saudis, it’s about cultivating Yemen into a vassal state due to its strategic location and ideology. The Saudis interfered when the Zaydi-dominant Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen or North Yemen dissolved into the Yemen Arab Republic, sponsored by the US and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, the patron of Arab nationalism.

The Saudis sought to destabilize any such ideology on its border that would threaten the Saudi monarchy. They did this through sponsoring royalists of the previous king in the North Yemen Civil War and funded Wahhabism in the 90s in a unified Yemen still heavy with the dogma of Marxist South Yemen, along with their former ideological apprentice Qatar.

Simultaneously, as the British occupier began to recede from southern Yemen in the 1960s, the Saudi’s began to get involved in Marxist South Yemen in anyway it could. And now, with the paranoia gripping the House of Saud about their increasing defunct authority and influence in the Middle East, any authority in Yemen not under their persuasive influence or associated with Iran will be repudiated even though the Houthis are a home-grown political and religious movement.

Finally, the UAE is a quiet tactician. It had its commercial interests revoked by the Saudi-sponsored Hadi government, which gave those contracts to the Emiratis’ long-term rival and occasional partner Qatar, as well as its ally Saudi Arabia. Those contracts included Dubai Ports World, a UAE company that has secured long-term leases for infrastructure and assets in the region, losing its considerable investments in Yemeni ports and reportedly in gold mines in southern Yemen and pipelines.

For Abu Dhabi’s Al-Nahyan family, diversifying their economy and aggrandizing their influence in the region as well as internationally is pivotal to their continued independence and prominence, and the chance to reacquire those lost assets and even more wasn’t to be missed out on. Their greatest ambition is to splinter Yemen through their sponsorship of the al-Hirak/Southern Movement installed in their supported Southern Transitional Council that would gift them the southern coast of Yemen and aggrandize their acquisition of maritime ports in the region.

The consequences

This political trap to paint Yemen as a Sunni-Shia proxy war is an imagined geography – a narrative that has been imagined, but didn’t exist. However, it has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the Iranians are likely to sympathize and politically support the Houthis, as they see each other as political resisters to American, Saudi, and Israeli injustices, even though Zaydism bears commonality with Sunnism.

However, the US’s Nikki Haley would have the UN believe that Iranian missiles are penetrating Saudi skies and used this to justify their aiding in a full naval, air and land blockade with the Saudis. These condemnations were because the Saudis weren’t succeeding against the Houthis.

It’s not implausible, but the Houthis are more likely using their own ingenuity to manufacture missiles using Yemeni weapons caches left from the well-supplied days of heavy Soviet support. Yemen is just behind the US in being the most armed nation per capita after all, but it is plausible that the Iranian’s are educating the Houthis in missile engineering.

The UN is also embarrassing itself with its immovable death toll. The 10,000 dead is a bygone shadow; cholera, malnutrition, famine, stagnant water, and roving airstrikes have set into Yemen like rot in a tree. Don’t deaths caused by a blockade on medicine and food count? It is after all, an aggressive act.

The UN’s OCHOA in January 2017 reported that 10,000 were dead, 40,000 were injured, and in 2018, that figure hasn’t changed, and the UN stopped counting in 2014, so the Yemeni death toll is being whitewashed. UNICEF, however, reported in 2016 that 63,000 died from preventable causes. Aren’t those deaths attributable to the Saudi and American blockade?

Save The Children reported in 2017 that 50,000 children died in the  first 10 months of 2017 from disease, so that’s 113,000 children up until October 2017 dead from lacking medicine and pestilence brought on by a blockade caused by war. This doesn’t count adults or even violent deaths.

In this water scarce nation, with bridges and highways destroyed, soaring food prices and a complete blockade, over a million people have cholera caused by contaminated water due to the Saudis bombing water treatment plants. Maybe if the UN changed Mohammad bin Salman’s name to Putin US media would swiftly report on the crimes of Saudi Arabia.

As with many events, the origins have been forgotten and the imperial motives glossed over, but as the politics trickle into UN speeches, nightly porous news coverage, and military actions, Yemen is being torn apart and plundered by neighbouring jackals and far off opportunists.

Andrew Brennan is a dual Irish/American citizen who was educated in Ireland. He holds two Master of Arts degrees from the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has experience in radio, research, and domestic television, and also currently contributes to Forbes and Global Times.